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One Man Nearly Ruins Jake Gyllenhaal's Otherwise Riotously Fun 'Road House'

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 22, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | March 22, 2024 |


The 2024 remake of Road House stars Jake Gyllenhaal as Elwood Dalton, a former UFC fighter who relocates to the Florida Keys to quell the violence in a roadhouse amusingly named Road House that is owned by Frankie (Jessica Williams at her most sarcastically endearing). Dalton is a man of few words, whose reputation for violence precedes him, so his presence alone is often enough to stop a fight before it even begins (as is the case with a bare-knuckle boxer played by Post Malone).

When his quietly imposing presence alone is not enough to stop a fight, Dalton provides ample warning of his ability and is even kind enough to drive his victims to the hospital afterward for medical care. That’s where he meets the film’s love interest, a doctor named Ellie, played by Daniela Melchior. But there are more than a few bar brawls to break up in the Road House; there’s a villain named Ben Brandt (Billy Magnussen) who wants to run the bar out of business so he can use the port for various drug-related illicit activities. Brandt has plenty of henchmen to send to the Road House to get their beatings, and Dalton dispatches them with kindness up and until they cross a line and elicit the same rage out of him that ended his UFC career.

Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith) directs from an Anthony Bagarozzi and Chuck Mondry script, and it’s clear from the outset that Liman understands the B-movie appeal of the original. Liman combines the cheesy fun of the 1989 movie with a surprisingly well-cast Gyllenhaal with the ultraviolence of John Wick and a few lines that would make Schwarzenegger proud. It’s basically a Statham film helmed by an A-list director and starring an A-list actor from one of the guys who wrote The Nice Guys. That’s a helluva combination, and the result is a funny, well-shot, action-packed blast. Whatever deal that may have been made with Amazon, Liman is absolutely right about how well it would play on a big screen — it is a raucous crowd-pleaser that could benefit even more from a lively and infectious crowd.

It is awesome … except for one thing: Conor McGregor. Before Road House, I didn’t know much about McGregor — a former UFC champion — beyond vague knowledge of a history of criminal violence and at least one violent sexual assault allegation. But this is not about that. This is about the fact that Conor McGregor is a terrible actor and a toxic presence whose insidious cartoon-villain smile almost never drops.

To be honest, he’s creepy. There are a lot of great actors who pretend to be bad men in films, but there’s something about McGregor’s presence that suggests it’s not an act. His wild eyes and Joker grin are genuinely stomach-churning, and maybe that works in a darker, more dramatic film (or even a horror movie), but in Road House, he sucks all the fun out of the room. His presence is a disservice not only to the spirit of the original film but the memory of Patrick Swayze. He’s bad vibes all around and unfortunately present in entirely too much of the film.

It’s not a dealbreaker, exactly, because Gyllenhaal has finally found an action role well suited to his warm demeanor and ridiculous abs, and Liman brilliantly stages the bloody ultraviolent fight sequences, but the intensity of McGregor’s real-life menace cuts against the grain of the film’s tone. This is a weird analogy for a movie of this ilk, but McGregor’s onscreen presence is the equivalent of Negan beating Glenn to a bloody pulp with a baseball bat in The Walking Dead. It’s too much, not because of the violence itself but because of who is behind it. If Liman had actually cast the guy McGregor mimics, Jason Statham, Road House would have been a near-perfect B-movie. But McGregor leaves a dark cloud in his wake, and in fight sequences where the audience should be whooping and hollering, we just recoil and look away.

‘Road House’ premiered at the 2024 SXSW Film and TV Festival. It is now streaming on Amazon.

Unrelated to the quality of the film itself, but it is worth noting that, during the Q&A after the film, McGregor basically took it over, behaved like a drunken idiot (whether he was drunk or not), and barely let anyone else have a word, including Gyllenhaal. It was an uncomfortable shitshow, but who is going to tell Conor McGregor to shut up?